The Hippo


May 24, 2020








The Scriven Arts Colony barn. Kelly Sennott photo.

Scriven Arts Colony, featuring Matthew Nighswander

Where: 452 NH Route 140, Gilmanton
When: Tuesday, July 5, from 8 to 9:30 p.m.
Admission: Free
Calendar: For a full calendar of events, visit; email

Party house
Scriven Arts Colony brings 18th-century barn back to life

By Kelly Sennott

 When Bill Donahue returned to care for the Gilmanton house his grandmother Jane Scriven Cumming left the family after she died in 1998, it seemed he should do something about its attached circa 1790 barn.

The barn had a history of parties. Most were parties his grandmother hosted, though he’d held “kind of a rager” years back when he was 18. And there were more than enough chairs for company. During an interview in the old barn a couple weeks ago, seating hung from the hayloft and stood on the ground floor. There were painted green and blue pews from the church down the street and an old-fashioned sleigh that sat in the corner. Donahue estimated the barn, which has been in his family since 1905, can hold about 60 people.
“The barn is very charismatic. Nothing’s straight. The floor is tilting. The chairs are irregular, and they have a deep, idiosyncratic history. The beams in there are dragged out of the forest from 200 years ago and chipped up in a very irregular way,” Donahue said.
But he thought he could do better than make it a party venue. So, when he moved to New Hampshire full-time last year, he established the Scriven Arts Colony, a place to hold Gilmanton-themed arts and cultural events. He held the first two last year, and this summer there’s a whole slew of happenings, from writer presentations to foodie events. The next, on July 5, features photographer Matthew Nighswander, who rediscovered his hometown via nighttime photography.
Donahue, a journalist who’s written for Harper’s, The New York Times Magazine and The Atlantic, said the mission of the Scriven Arts colony was, in part, to bring the old house back to life. He grew up in Connecticut and lived in Portland, Oregon, for 28 years but looked back at his summers spent in Gilmanton with relish. He moved back to the state full-time to be closer to his mom and because of the accessibility of activities here like hiking and cross-country skiing. To recapture the spirit of the place, he named the venue and event series after his grandmother, a publicist, interior designer and “bon vivant,” the life of the party. 
“I always had a kind of romance for this part of the world. For this house and this town. The number of days in a year we came here — it wasn’t a lot, but they sort of moved large,” he said while sitting on a screened-in porch that overlooks the parcel of land with grass and wildflowers. 
The events focus heavily on Gilmanton and its people, who’ve been supportive of the colony. One guy down the street has let visitors park on his land, and Donahue said he’s gotten a lot of help from community members planning the first-ever Taste of Gilmanton in September. 
The enthusiasm might come from the fact that a venue like this is pretty unusual for the area — in Nighswander’s opinion. He grew up in Gilmanton and lives in New York, where he works at NBC, mostly as a photo editor.
The collection Nighswander’s showing at the next event captures nighttime images of the old country road near his mom’s house, which gets very dark at night due to the trees blocking out the stars and moonlight. He remembers trick-or-treating as a kid out on those dark roads — supposedly the house down the street was haunted — and felt a sense of nostalgia creating them. Most of them were taken during vacations with his family while his kids were asleep.
Donahue said it’s not a money-making thing — his only purchase was the microphone, and all events except the foodie ones are free — but the colony has become more legit this summer, with a website, T-shirt, even refrigerator magnets. People have responded by calling him up and requesting to read or present in the old barn.
“I think it’s a cool thing, what Bill’s trying to do. It’s a great space in that old barn there. It’s always fun to do something in a setting that’s not just white walls and a gallery,” Nighswander said. 

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